‘Have you heard of this Caitlin Moran book, Ca?’ Dad says, looking up from the Saturday Times.
‘I’ve read it. It’s very funny. I’m off to the launch on Thursday.’
‘Really?’ He sounds excited. He likes it when I meet authors or do anything a bit establishment. Though such is his partiality that he tends to think that it is nice for all these people to meet me.
‘What’s it about?’
‘It is a memoir but also about feminism. How to be a modern feminist. It’s all about liking men because they are funny and can carry heavy stuff. It’s about weight and porn and children. I laughed my head off reading it. It’s very good.’
He smiles and goes back to his reading.
My dad likes books and reading and likes that I like books and reading. No, it’s more than that. My dad had one of those Irish childhoods and couldn’t read properly until he braved adult literacy classes when he was 29. I was seven. My mother used to test us both from a big red spelling book. I always won. My dad was always proud that I won. That is one of the reasons why I love him as much as I do.
At that time he learnt enough to write shift reports, and that was all he needed. Years later, when he was proud that I was working in a bookshop and meeting famous people, he started reading the signed books I sent him. He is an example of how people, real people who struggle with literacy, bridge between types of books. He started off reading autobiographies of footballers that I’d done events with and now reads the sort of novels that win The Orange Prize. He started off reading the Sports section of The Times and now reads the review section and the arts pages.
(We’re getting to Caitlin, I promise)
Sunday morning and we are walking to Kew Gardens in the rain. My parents take Matthew to the Palm House and I sit and write my novel in the Orangery. I tap and tap and at one point make myself cry. Before I know it they are back. We wheel Matthew around Kew Green until he dozes off and then pile into The Rose and Crown for a roast.
‘She’s very like you,’ Dad says, taking a sip of his pint.
‘You read the interview?’
‘Yes, and the first chapter.’
‘Very much. She reminds me of you.’
It’s the partiality thing again. Only a parent would say it that way round. My mother once told me that she thought Maggie O’Farrell wrote like me.
So, is Caitlin Moran like me? Am I like her? She is smarter, better, more interesting, more (much more) successful. But I don’t want to start putting myself down and I don’t think she’d want me to. We have a lot in common. A lot of women will read her book and find a sister. And I don’t want to say men should read this book because that makes it sound like a duty and it isn’t. It is a treat.
‘Actually, she reminds me of me. The only thing I didn’t like about that book was that it proved I have no original thoughts. Caitlin has had them all first.’
I am wondering whether I should offer him my proof copy. I’m hesitating, thinking of all the bits about the joy of wanking. Do you give that kind of thing to your Dad? Especially now that I’ve told him that Caitlin and I are as one. And I’m remembering the chapter on abortion which I found difficult at first but was nodding along to by the end. Do I tell him that? I agree with her on almost everything, Dad, though I’m not sure about the abortion thing.
We finish our food and set off for home. Matthew is still asleep and it is still raining. I think about my Dad on the way home. He was a feminist when I was growing up in Yorkshire and all the customers who came in our pub used to tease me for always having my nose in a book.
‘Book learning won’t get you a husband,’ one of them said.
‘There’s more to life than husbands,’ said Dad.
He was my champion. Women weren’t precisely encouraged to have opinions but he taught me to shout mine loud.
‘You should learn to shut your mouth,’ a man once said to me in front of lots of other men. I remember the shock, the way my face flamed like it was burning up, the way my legs wobbled and my heart pounded in my chest. But I’ve never learnt to shut my mouth. Mainly because of my Dad I’ve never learnt to shut my mouth. I’ve pissed people off for being bolshie and opinionated but I’ve never learnt to shut my mouth.
We get home and I go and fetch the proof. ‘There you go,’ I say. ‘Enjoy. We’re all feminists together.’
And Dad settles down to a well deserved treat.
So, think about it, girls, women, ladies, whatever we want to call ourselves these days. Buy one for you and one for the man of your choice. Certainly kicks the fuck out of any of the more conventional Father’s Day gift ideas. Though I’m still feeling nervous about all the wanking….